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Find Your Calling (without Leaving Your Job)
Shifting Perspective to Find Purpose
If I were in my mid-twenties, I know what I would do. I’d sign up for the Civilian Climate Corps (CCC) and lend my hands to help mitigate the effects of climate change. It would be tough work. Building trails. Restoring wetlands. Removing invasive species. All while maybe earning $15 an hour. But more than that, I would be one of many people from all walks of life, Black and White, Asian and Latin/o/a/x, rural and inner city, coming together for the betterment of the country and for humankind.
I can imagine how that last idea might hit me. As my work day was beginning to draw to a close, I’d arch backwards in the summer sun, taking a big swig of filtered water from my weathered Nalgene. My calloused, dirt-stained hands would ache. Seeing my fellow Americans working together as one, with their pick axes and shovels, the words of former President John F. Kennedy might then echo through my mind, “Ask not what your country can do for you; Ask what you can do for your country.” Maybe.
Such an other-centric shift in perspective, says Angela Duckworth in Grit, would transform my job into a calling. Most of us, at some point or another, yearn for this calling, for a sense of purpose in our lives. Some of us may feel, however, that we haven’t quite found it… yet. But what if we didn’t have to quit our jobs and our lives, move to Idaho, and have epiphanies building erosion-resistant trail?
Consider, for example, the following parable:
Three bricklayers are asked, “What are you doing?”
The first says, “I am laying bricks.”
The second says, “I am building a church.”
The third says, “I am building the house of God.”1
Same action. Different perspectives. And given those different perspectives, very different feelings and thoughts will arise.
The difference in perspective above might be fueled by two independent needs, a personal need to find our work interesting, and a pro-social need to be of benefit to others. (Previously, I had written about nurturing interest through nuance in “They Kept Their Passion Fresh”.)
To promote more of a pro-social mindset with your work, Dr. D presents three suggestions:
Reflect on how your present work can make a difference to society;
Think how you can bring more of your core values into your job;
Find a role model who inspires you to be a better person.
Being other-centered runs contrary to so much of the me-centric messaging we receive in our daily lives. And when stressed, being other-centered can seem counter-intuitive. Nevertheless, as the Indian sage Shantideva once said:
All the happiness their is in this world
Arises from wishing others to be happy,
And all the suffering there is in this world
Arises from wishing ourself to be happy.2
Recognizing that we contribute to a greater good fills us with a sense of dignity and self-worth. So often, in the rush to get things done, we forget about our connection to others, or cannot even find the time to contemplate how the work we do benefits them. Perhaps, no one in the company brass has even thought to explain how our role fits into the larger picture.
Therefore, it would be prudent for employers to provide their employees with time to contemplate their own personal values, and how those values, within the context of the work day, may be focused for the greater good. A great time to begin this conversation could be during the hiring process. That discussion, both intra- and interpersonal, could then be fostered throughout the year.
Epiphanies like the one described above can be powerful. They can change lives. But too often, regardless of their awe-inspiring profundity, their insights get lost amongst a sea of daily chores and stresses. Therefore, it behooves us to take time to pause, reconnect with ourselves, our values, and our interconnectedness to our world. If each of us took that time to nurture these things, many more people in our world would have a calling, and not merely a job. How wonderful that would be!
Grit, by Dr. Angela Duckworth
Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, by Shantideva